Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Heat, Sand storm and washing at the Mosque

Today was very much a repeat of the last two days, a long stretch of road under punishing desert heat... The good news though was that we were offered a perfect tail wind that made feel more like sailing than riding a bike. Many of us did the first 100 km in less than 3 hours and that included a lunch stop...
The scenery started changing as well with some acacia trees popping up here and there and some kind of sub Saharan vegetation. A relief after so many days of desert. We saw free roaming camels for the first time as well as plenty of goats eating from the acacia trees.

I reached camp so early that the heat was only starting to become unbearable then, I had managed to miss most of the worst by riding so fast.. The camp unfortunately offered no relief from the sun or the heat. Everything here burned, and as it was not enough, I noticed a fat cloud of smoke in the horizon. “Sand storm” shouted Abdul. .He is the Sudanese representative of the ministry of tourism, helping us with the necessary arrangements that need to be made every day.

Within a few minutes, tents started flying away around camp and sand was everywhere. I decided to wait for pitching my tent and found refuge at a little shed nearby where they sold semi cold drinks and tea. Many other riders joined me and we sat in this covered room that offered shelter from the sun and the sand sharing it with a few locals. The nice thing about it is that it was a good 10 degrees colder in there and that it has some basic beds in which we could lie down. A treat!

The heat had simply decimated all of us. We all look like coming back from the front line after heavy artillery exchanges... There was not much talking, we all sat, kept on ordering more semi cold drinks and just tried to rehydrate. After some time, even the locals started to talk to us probably feeling sorry for the way we all looked. Today was definitely my worst day ever with the heat. I had now reached a point where I simply could not cool down, it just felt as I was boiling, and even the drinks were not helping. I fell asleep on one of the dirty half broken string beds inside the shed. I have no idea how long I slept, but when I woke up, I felt a lot better. By then the storm was dying down and it was time to get back to camp and pitch my tent.

The 500 meter walk back to camp just brought me back to reality, it was still so hot that before reaching half way, I turned back and bought 5 drinks from the little shed before making my second attempt to get back at camp. Buying “cold” drinks in this part of the world takes some experience. Everybody pretends to be selling cold drinks, but very few actually have cold drinks. What you must look for is electricity, if you see a shed along the road with some kind of electrical line hanging in some corner, it is promising... They usually have one big freezer that kind of works but in this heat you can imagine that all it can achieve is bring a pepsi temperature from 40 degrees to 20, but even 20 feels cold in a 40 degree sand storm... What you must not do is look at the content of the fridge... It might put you off the envy of drinking... As I wanted to make sure that the drinks were cold enough, I open the top led and bend into it... A filthy smell of rotten meat jumped at my face, but I was so thirsty, I didn't care.... The thing is that they use the same freezer for everything, including keeping their meat, using a wet dirty cloth as divider. Some European Union sanity control inspector would probably have a heart attack if he had to see that... But we were TDA cyclists, we had pedal 2000 km across the desert, slept on dumping sites, eaten dodgy local food and learned to dig a hole for going to toilets, so by now, most of us really don't care about such details. A colder drink than the air is a luxury... Full stop!

One interesting fact is that they actually have a much more efficient way to cool water down than freezers. The sheds along the road all have a full size goat skin filled with water hanging from the roof. The evaporation process through the skin is so efficient that the water inside the goat is extremely cold. They leave a metal cup next to it and anybody just helps himself into this cold water. Amazing! I did not dare drinking it, but I through a cup of that water on top of my head and it was the best moment of the day.

Later on, at camp a few of us got together and decided that it was not acceptable to remain in this state of filth, salty sweaty condition. So we looked at our options for showering. Quite limited when you looked around. But one of us reminded the rest that every mosque has some water facility since you have to wash your feet before getting in, and a mosque there was on the horizon... So we mounted a “mosque washing” expedition. 5 of us left with soap and towels toward the mosque. As we made our way there we noticed a small building behind the mosque... and there it was a small room with a water pipe and a few taps hanging. The pressure was non existent, but who cared about pressure... There was not much dignity left in that group as we quickly undressed and washed ourselves literally on top of each other with whatever water came out of that pipe... The 5 of us probably managed to wash ourselves with less water than you guys use at home each day for cleaning you teeth.... But it felt so good.... Getting rid of that salty sweat that covers our face is such a basic pleasure.... One should think about having this added to the human right constitution... Unfortunately, the pleasure did not last too long as an angry Sudanese man appeared out of nowhere and clearly was not impressed by this group of non believers making use of the mosque facility. But he was not here to chase us away, he probably realized it was a good opportunity to cash in on rich foreigners, so he asked for money. 5 Sudanese pound per person... a absolute fortune (about 2,5 dollars). After some negotiation, the price had come down to 5 pounds for the whole group, still a hell of a lot of money per liter of water... But we were so delighted about our shower at the mosque that we paid and everybody was happy.

Tomorrow we will arrive in Khartoum, this will mean the end of the first stage of the tour and also a rest day. At camp tonight the only thing in everyone's mind was restaurants, real cold drinks and may be a swimming pool. The sand storm is now over as I am writing this from my boiling tent, but sand is simply everywhere and I am seriously worried about all my electronic equipments. I am going to find a nice hotel in Khartoum and use the opportunity to clean everything. By now, I would be ready to pay anything for a cold beer, but alcohol is strictly prohibited in Sudan. So we are going to have to work hard on that one, but some of us are already making plans... There are rumors about some Chinese connections... but more about that later...


Anonymous said...

Hi dad. Very proud of you. Looks like you are having an amazing time. Love the photos. Keep going! Miss you. Amanda

Anonymous said...

GĂ©nial ! On a chaud pour toi !!!! Profites bien de Khartoum !

Anonymous said...

Hello Gerald, this is the stage 15 with GPS data of Gabriele:
Stage 15 of Tour d'Afrique, Khartoum, Sudan